Last week, once again, a minor Twitter storm erupted around CAMRA’s position relating to kegged beer. The upstart cousin to cask ale always generates character inches on social media platforms – particularly when a new directive comes out of St Albans, or a smart-phone toting beer fan comes across something unexpected in a pub or beer festival. The hoary issue of keg seemingly eclipses all other CAMRA topics (pub closures, duty, ‘take it to the top’ etc) by a factor of twenty. Although, maybe, it’s just that discussions relating to the new horizons of pressured dispense degenerate into spats all the quicker.
The most recent issue – which is doing the rounds on Twitter again today – was generated by a tweet from Craig Middleton of Cromarty Brewing:-
So… we cant supply camra beer festivals now because we keg our beers. They only accept if we name our kegged beers differently. Anyone?
— Craig Middleton (@CromartyBrewing) March 6, 2013
A fair bit of back-and-forth followed, but the upshot was that the organisers of the Larbert Beer Festival had cancelled an order for casked Red Rocker as Craig also kegs the beer (and bottles it too – although nobody seems unduly bothered by this). Other Scottish breweries were also told of the ruling – which seemed to have originated from a CAMRA policy, rather than the whim of a festival compiler in the Forth Valley. Craig at Make Mine a Half contacted CAMRA head office, and was supplied with the relevant paragraph, which is as follows:-
4.33 Beer festivals are not to stock or admit for any award, any beer brand which is produced in both cask and keg versions that mislead the drinker into believing that there is little or no difference between the versions.
Following the Cromarty snub, I’ve seen a few tweets referring to ‘breweries banned from CAMRA festivals’, and ‘brewery xxxx kegs their beer – will CAMRA bar them from SRAF/GBBF too?’ Well, no – I don’t think so. The main problem with paragraph 4.33 is that it is highly ambiguous and completely open to interpretation. It has, though, seemingly been promoted at Scottish/Northern Irish branch level – so the Forth Valley beer collator looks to have decided to apply it rigidly, and declined to include Cromarty’s Red Rocker.
Firstly (and all of these subsequent points are how I’ve read this rule, and what has happened – so please comment if your interpretation is different to mine), this ruling only applies to ‘beer brands’ rather than breweries. Although Highland Brewing Co are about to begin kegging, last year’s Champion Beer of Scotland Orkney Best will not be kegged anytime soon, so this beer would still have been entered, and still won, at last year’s Scottish Real Ale Festival.
Secondly, having spoken to the organiser of the SRAF, I’d be astonished if a similar interpretation of this ruling is applied there. CAMRA releases these guidelines nationally, and they are then applied locally, by local branches. Decisions made by one will be very different from another. This, in itself, creates confusion – but common sense and a bit of discretion would remove this as an issue before it began. The SRAF beer list won’t have taken shape yet, either – there’s time for all to be included, if desired.
Thirdly, the use of the word ‘mislead’ is another source of potential confusion. How can this be proven? Does it mean deliberately mislead, or not? Red Rocker is made to one recipe, then split into cask, keg and bottle. What’s misleading there? This could all be part of a wider CAMRA initiative to increase awareness of the differentiation between cask and keg beer at point of sale, but many beers dispensed at CAMRA’s beer festivals are from gravity casks with hand-written signs. The organisers can state, as clearly as they like, that the cask version is on offer.*
*Although, from Craig’s tweet, it was the kegged version CAMRA would see re-branded.
But then, as the whole point of attending a CAMRA festival is to drink casked real ale, nobody in their right mind would expect to be confused as to which version they were drinking when they turned up. CAMRA aren’t going to stop accepting beer from producers that keg their beer for sale elsewhere.* If rule 4.33 is enforced, up and down the cask ale nation, what would be the outcome? Fewer entries to CAMRA’s festivals. More confusion from festival goers as to why beer X isn’t there but beer Y is. And more deviation between the local branches. CAMRA is a national organisation – this cannot be what they want, surely?
As I see it, this missive relates to recipes, not dispense, and to beers, not breweries. It’s a shame that Craig won’t be exhibiting at Larbert – Red Rocker is fantastic – but the interpretation of this rule by one local beer festival is just that – until other, larger CAMRA beer festivals do something similar, this is surely just a storm in a cask, brewed up on Twitter.
Paragraph 4.33 has been put forward for debate at the forthcoming CAMRA AGM in Norwich, by the Scottish & Northern Irish Branch. The recommendation is that other local branches are aware of, and should uphold, this point. We’ll be very interested to hear what happens, as it seems this issue is set to run…